Branch Secretary : info@housingworkers.org.uk
  

Confessions of a hostel worker

How do they pay the rent?

 

 

A recent article on the BBC website caught my imagination as it throws light on how much harder life has become for young people. As the ETE coordinator at a London YMCA and a member of Unite the Housing Workers, I was struck by various fundamental societal changes that now hinder young people’s chances of finding their feet at YMCA’s today.

 

 

Praful, one of the Indian young men, mentions that the rent at central London YMCA was 10 shillings per week in 1965. Accurate  comparisons are difficult to make, however after doing some calculations I got to a sum of £2.40 a month or £42.00 in today’s money. After a little research I am estimating that starting wages were about £20 a week or £1040 a year in 1965 which equates to £21,320 in today’s money

 

 

Rent in supported housing in London today is at least £1200 a month and can be as much as £2000! The Minimum wage for a 21 year old in the UK is £8.36 per hour which equates to £14,040 a year for a 35 hour week. The problem facing young people becomes clear very quickly when you do these calculations. How do they pay the rent?

 

 

1965   Weekly rent at London YMCA 50p. Average income £20

2021 weekly rent at London YMCA £320. Average income £292. (Based on 35 hour working week).

 

 

Empty bank account

 

 

Praful was working three jobs in 1965, however young people in supported accommodation on the minimum wage would not be able to pay their rent. Even working 3 jobs at £8.36 an hour they would be earning  £401.28 (for a 48 hour week), which would leave them £81.28 a week to pay for transport, food, clothes etc. Bearing in mind that a weekly travel card zones 1-4 is £50.50 today, it is clear that they would need to access the benefits system to pay their way.

 

 

In my work I have often dealt with residents who are so distressed by the cost of travel to work and the reality of their empty bank accounts that they eventually simply stop working. 

 

 

Residents at hostels do not receive the housing benefit element of their benefits which, as they are considered vulnerable, is paid directly to their landlord. This makes it more remote, as a result, they find it difficult to make a plan to find work and move on into private rented accommodation as they can’t work more than 16 hours a week without affecting the housing benefit element of their Universal credit. When they work they lose 60 pence for every pound earned which would be less disheartening if the idea of being independent and being able to pay the rent in full one day were achievable but the rent is so high that financial independence and breaking free from the benefits system seems like a remote dream. This also makes it difficult to learn or care about money management, saving and planning altogether.

 

 

“..colleagues who are supporting vulnerable young people to build a life are in similar predicaments themselves..”

 

 

The government has responded to the COVID crisis by topping up UC payments, as young people lost part time jobs however the government has not recognised or moved to change the benefit system that has entrapped them.

 

 

There are very few affordable properties and social housing is no longer an option for most in London. Renting is expensive and difficult to find for those on benefits, despite the recent ruling making it illegal to discriminate against benefit claimants when advertising rental properties. Buying is certainly not an option for low paid young people either. 

 

 

Many of my colleagues who are supporting vulnerable young people to build a life are in similar predicaments themselves. Low wages and unaffordable rents force them to juggle money, between student loan repayments, bills, food and all the time trying to stay below the cut off for the housing element of universal credit. 

 

 

So a whole generation is in a benefits trap which pays ever increasing amounts of money to landlords, whether they are housing associations, charities or private landlords. 

 

 

This makes housing an attractive investment for the rich which in turn leads to a constant rise in house prices and rents.

 

 

It was inspiring to read about Praful and his friends and how they prospered, I just wish young people today could work hard and plan their futures, rather than having their eye on the universal credit rules all the time and learning to play the benefits system to survive. 

 

 

The system is broken

 

 

A Guardian article in 2016 stated that private landlords received £9.3 billion of taxpayers money, an amount which had doubled over the previous ten years. It would be interesting to know how much tax payers paid landlords in 2020. 

 

 

The government's mantra of "levelling up" is not helping the young people I work with nor is it helping the low paid and highly skilled staff that support them. The system is still broken and getting worse. The trade unions need to expose the Tory lies and fight for decent pay rises as well as decent, safe and genuinely affordable homes but we also need a party to articulate these demands and wage a political fight to complement the industrial struggle.

 

 

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